Repent. Believe in the Gospel. You are dust….
Lent begins tomorrow with the solemn reminder that we are sinners. After we are signed with the ashes, we’ll get absorbed in conversations about what we’re giving up for Lent. Okay. That’s what we do during Lent. But why? What is the goal? What is the purpose?
If you told a small child to stop doing various actions because they were wrong, and that was all you told her, she would conclude, “Well I can’t do this. I shouldn’t do that. I am attracted to the things I shouldn’t do, and find it hard to do things I’m supposed to do. I have to constantly make up for my shortcomings. Sigh.”
Instead, imagine telling the same child, “God loves you and wants you to be happy. Do you know how happy God wants you to be? As happy as he himself is. God is happy because God is love and gives himself in love to others. You can be happy when you love others, when you share with them, when you learn about God and love him in return, when you give God some time in prayer and worship. These things will make you a beautiful person that everyone will want to have around. Goodness is very attractive and makes other people happy too.”
The first approach could seem like a downer or dead-end. The second approach, instead, opens up the mind and heart in excitement and determined desire to do good and to please God.
That’s why I appreciate Blessed James Alberione’s spirituality because he always takes the second approach! Instead of penances that take away something from our life, he suggests penances that build up, improve, maximize, strengthen, and multiply… all in a dynamic energetic movement that involves the holiness of every aspect of our life and person for the glory of God and the good of others.
When Lent comes around I always reflect on the three penances that Blessed James Alberione gave to us Daughters of St. Paul. They really aren’t unique to our way of life as sisters and you might find them a wonderful springboard to a more beautiful Lenten journey.
- The first penance is to live our life in community with love, constancy, and joy. All of us live in some form of community and this “penance” builds virtue, perseverance, and gratitude.
- Alberione felt that this next penance is the most important, and yet it doesn’t seem like a “penance” at all: “It is the development of one’s personality so as to progress more, that is, developing one’s gifts and aptitude of nature and grace.” So this means becoming better at what we do in life, developing our minds through study and learning, setting aside time for leisure, appreciating beauty, developing our spiritual life, immersing ourselves in culture, praying with more fervor and developing our life of faith, reflecting on the signs of the times, honing our skills in ministry, etc.
- Apply, utilize and make everything converge for the glory of God, for the mission (in whatever way each of us is called to carry it out), and for heavenly treasure.
The secret for Alberione is this: “Always on the move, always progressing, always preparing for the celestial life that awaits us. Oh, the holy torment of the one who aspires to greater heights, who strains forward, who has recourse to new means and uses them. Be persons who move ahead, who every day reach conclusions both in regard to their spirit and their actions, and who feel they are living their days usefully.”
Penance, for Alberione, should not weaken or exhaust a person, nor reduce our health, our aptitudes, energies of intellect, heart, and body. Instead, our penances should make these grow and use all of them for God, for souls, and for holiness.
So maybe Lent is more about rising from the ashes and giving ourselves entirely over to God’s glory, leaving behind anything that hinders us from flying on the road to holiness. So leave aside things, yes, but make sure you combine this with the holy torment of aspiring to greater heights of holiness and wholeness.